Tag Archive for Bishops United Against Gun Violence

After Chicago: Reflections on Racism, Poverty & Violence

The week after Easter four of us from the WMA Social Justice Commission went to Chicago to an event organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. It was a gathering to study the “Unholy Trinity” of racism, poverty and gun violence. My friends will share their reflections and wisdom from those remarkable days here in this blog. I’ll save my thoughts for the last.

Alexizendria Link

I left the conference with a spiritual understanding that garnered the urgency for Church reflection, movement and support for action against injustice in society.  A call for Christians to return to moral leadership and service by partnering with oppressed communities rather than serving ourselves within church communities was highlighted.

The Rev. Julian DeShazier, adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary and University Church senior pastor reminded us poverty, racism and gun violence are moral issues and the church needs to be a moral voice. He says,

“We have turned our churches into think tanks but not action centers and consider our pastors as theologians rather than community leaders.”

He reminded us the church once represented a moral center in the community and as a result provided a moral compass in our cities and towns.  Now it appears as if the church has shifted to primarily condemning.  The Church condemns racism, injustice, poverty, gun violence, climate issues and etc. but rarely are we physically doing anything in and with oppressed communities.

I believe we need to intellectually revisit, spiritually reflect and physically return to moral leadership while partnering with communities outside our church walls.

Jane G. Tillman

Attending the conference “The Unholy Trinity:  The Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence” in Chicago was an amazing experience of listening, learning, singing, praying, weeping, and marching.  The conference included three contextual bible study sessions which began in a large group led by Dr. Dora Mbuwayesango, a professor of Old Testament and Languages at Hood Theological Seminary.  We then went to small groups each day, to study a selected biblical text, trying to understand the characters in the story, the relationship of the characters to one another and to God, and the role of violence and conflict in the story of God’s people.  Moving from understanding the biblical text within an historical framework, we then explored how the ancient story of God’s people is like the pain we face in our current time with intergroup conflict, violence, murder, child sacrifice, political scheming, and the ongoing sin of racism, violence, and poverty.

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop Diocesan of Indianapolis, speaking at the public witness of prayer. Photo: Lee Cheek

I felt fortunate that the facilitator of my bible study group was the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, an African-American-Indian priest, who was attending the conference the week before her ordination and consecration as the Bishop of Indianapolis and the first African American woman to be a diocesan bishop.  There were moments of deep sadness as well, such has when the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton announced that the State of Arkansas would execute one of their prisoners that first evening of the conference.  The death penalty is where racism, poverty, gun violence, and state-sanctioned murder all intersect and this was a powerful moment for me.

Lee Cheek

Two common narratives about guns emerged: (1) gun violence is mainly a problem with blacks (2) unrestricted white gun ownership and “stand your ground “is God-ordained.  We were called to challenge these narratives from a faith-based perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. Photo: Lee Cheek

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian for the Diocese of Maryland, challenged a mostly white church to give up resting in the comfort of believing that the problem of gun violence lies only within the black urban community. She asked us to get to know their stories and see their humanity. The violence there is a legacy of a system of unjust privilege and penalty.  The inequalities of racism and poverty are something each of us is on the hook for.  Eliminating these systems is “not a work of choice for us but what is necessary to be Christian.”

The Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor from Washington, D.C., who was featured in the 2015 documentary, The Armour of Light, declared that unrestricted white gun ownership and violence against what is perceived as threat is “a theological problem” with which many evangelicals struggle. He urged us to build relationships that help them disentangle their theology from the culture of “ferocious autonomy” and individualism.

Lee Cheek, Alexizendria Link and Jane G. Tillman. PHOTO: J.G. Tillman

My thoughts on the “Unholy Trinity” event…

For me, the quote I will remember most came from Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor at University Chapel and a hip hop artist. He said, “Too many Christian churches have become ‘think tanks’ when they should be ‘action centers’.” I’m challenged and inspired by that line.

Part of being an “action center” is to take our faith to the streets in liturgies of witness. I have shared many times in this blog and in Abundant TIMES about the value and indeed, the necessity of public prayer witness. These are not demonstrations. They are not marches. They are prayer. They are processions. As one speaker put it: “We impoverish ourselves if we limit our symbols and sacraments to just what is possible in the walls of the church.” Liturgy is a strength of the Episcopal Church, so why not take that gift and bring it to the streets? We did that in Chicago.

Photo: Bishop Ian Douglas

Two hundred of us processed through a section of Chicago’s South Side. Drums loudly announced our presence. Bishops wore vestments. Dozens of crosses were carried high.  Banners clearly stated why we were doing this. We sang hymns. We chanted.

People joined us along the way. Some stood and watched. Many took out their cell phones and recorded it. Why? Because the Church was in the streets. We were not a think tank. We were a moving “action center”, witnessing against the Unholy Trinity and witnessing for Jesus mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug

More death. More words. And no action.

A Statement on the Mass Shooting in Orlando

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless.

Psalm 10:8

I write to you again in response to yet another mass shooting in America. Elementary schools, high schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, office buildings, churches and gay bars. No place is safe. No one is safe. Not as long as assault weapons are legally available to the one who hates, to the one who is ill, or to the one who wants to bring terror.

More death.  More words. And no action.

The public health crisis that is gun violence just claimed 50 more lives. Add this to the 91 per day that die in the United States through gun violence. Just ten days ago Bishops United Against Gun Violence co-sponsored the #WearOrange campaign. Episcopalians all over the country wore orange and took over social media for the entire day. When will we wake up? When will our elected officials show some courage? In the wake of the slaughter and wounding of 100 LGBTQ people in Orlando, we must acknowledge that homophobia and racism are also at the heart of our dis-ease.

They say in their heart, ‘God has forgotten; he hides his face; he will never notice (Psalm 10:11).’ But God sees. God needs us to break the cycle of fear, hatred and scapegoating with a love that defies the darkness. Yes, our laws must change. Our elected leaders must bear responsibility for the state of gun safety legislation. But we must speak love to those who mourn, to those feeling a wave of justifiable anger. In time and with grace, we must speak love even to the one who brings death.

AFP_BS7I5

Our hearts are broken for Orlando and for LGBTQ people who are absorbing the reality of this violence. Our love surrounds all who bear the weight of this tragedy.

Rise up, O Lord;

Lift up your hand, O God;

Do not forget the afflicted.

Psalm 10:12

+ Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts

Wear orange on June 2 because “we are human.”

Recently we celebrated Pentecost and many in our churches wore red. I was at The Church of the Nativity, Northborough that Sunday and they take this tradition seriously. I looked out at a sea of red. Red stands for the fire of the Holy Spirit and illustrates our prayer:

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen

Now I invite you to wear another color that also proclaims God’s love and a desire to renew the face of the earth. The color is orange.

Hadiya Pendleton

Hadiya Pendleton

In 2013 Hadiya Pendleton – a majorette and high school student from the south side of Chicago – was shot and killed just a week after marching in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Soon after this tragedy Hadiya’s childhood friends asked their classmates to commemorate Hadiya’s life – and the lives of hundreds claimed by Chicago gun violence each year – by wearing orange. Why orange? They said,

“Orange is used because hunters wear orange to warn other hunters not to shoot. By wearing orange, we are showing others that we are human and wish not to be gunned down.”

Numerous groups, including one I belong to – Bishops United Against Gun Violence – have declared June 2nd (Hadiya’s birthday) as Gun Violence Awareness Day. As a sign of solidarity “that we are human and wish not to be gunned down” are all invited to wear orange on that day. Clergy are invited to wear orange stoles on Sunday June 5th. Mine is being made now.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in our country. On average 91 Americans a day are killed due to gun violence. The stories and the statistics are staggering. Here are a few links to the facts.

Since Sandy Hook

Toddler Mortality from Gun Violence

Domestic violence

Polling

Comprehensive research website

Academic research in Preventive Medicine journal

Gun Violence Stats

And, because we are the people who wish to “renew the face of the earth,” we need to act on what we know. 5743341b83ae5Bishops United Against Gun Violence urges our cities, states and nation to adopt policies and pass legislation that will reduce the number of Americans killed and wounded by gunfire. These include common sense gun safety measures that already have the support of a majority of gun owners, such as:

  • handgun purchaser licensing
  • background checks on ALL gun purchasers
  • restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers
  • classification of gun trafficking as a federal crime
  • encouragement for the development of “smart gun” technology
  • federal funding of research into gun violence prevention strategies

And on June 2nd wear orange. Post your photo on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags: #WearOrange and #Episcopal. Bear witness to the belief that our country can do better – much better – in addressing this public health crisis. Wear it because we are the Jesus Movement, because we are out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

+Doug